Democrats Shift from Climate 'Change' to 'Adaptation' to Woo Republicans

By Colman, Zack | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, April 11, 2014 | Go to article overview

Democrats Shift from Climate 'Change' to 'Adaptation' to Woo Republicans


Colman, Zack, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


What's in a name?

If it's climate change, it's a lot. That's why environmental groups and congressional Democrats are increasingly talking about "climate adaptation."

Scientists overwhelmingly agree that humans cause climate change largely by burning greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels. But on Capitol Hill, the debate is polarizing, as many Republicans deny or are skeptical of that conclusion.

Noting that, the conversation is shifting toward "adaptation." It doesn't mean abandonment of talk of reducing emissions -- that is very much still the focal point. But by discussing adaptation more often, Democrats and environmental groups say they can skirt the science issue that has dogged climate change policy to build a bigger political tent that includes Republicans.

"That's not something we have to talk about. We're talking about extreme weather events. We know they're happening, so why do we need to say that?" Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., who is introducing a climate bill that doesn't even mention "climate change," told the Washington Examiner.

"I work in a place called the House of Representatives. And it's run by people called Republicans, and they like to fight about stuff like that. If I want to get their support, I'm a little smarter not to pick fights," said Cartwright, who is a member of the all- Democratic House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition.

Rather than focus on policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation centers on responses to a changing climate that brings higher sea levels, more intense storms and increasingly volatile precipitation patterns.

Democrats and some environmental groups say the focus on adaptation could prove a winner among Republicans, though they note any real solution to climate change will come from curbing emissions.

On adaptation, they point to the unanticipated $60 billion relief package Congress passed last year in response to Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast in October 2012. Spending money on projects to prevent damage like Sandy wrought, they say, could prove fiscally prudent.

"I think that can resonate well with conservative thinking. As you invest in these items, the projected costs that are avoided can be very instructive," Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., said. "We're not looking at some sort of modest price here. We're looking at an overwhelming tax bill that came forward."

To that point, several conservative groups joined with environmental organizations to oppose a rollback of a flood insurance law that would have made federal rates more actuarially sound, thereby slowing development in flood-prone regions that had pushed the program into insolvency. Congress, however, passed the bill last month.

"The best adaptation strategies are very good policy in any case," said Eli Lehrer, president of the conservative R Street Institute. "And whether intentionally or not, a lot of Republicans are already taking the lead on things that are climate adaptation strategies."

One of those Republicans is Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who is co- sponsoring legislation that would promote federal, state and local planning to reduce the effects of extreme weather in various economic sectors.

Wicker said he thought moving toward a discussion of adaptation could prompt more Republicans to work on climate change solutions.

"I do believe it is a way for us to do something sensible that is also a little more realistic than trying to change the sea level," said Wicker, whose bill is a companion to a House measure co- sponsored by Reps. Scott Peters, D-Calif., and Peter King, R-N.Y.

But some Republicans are skeptical that a name change can do much to woo lawmakers.

"Adaptation, mitigation, climate change, weather patterns -- they're all so loaded. That's the problem," said Robert Dillon, spokesman for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. …

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